The following article is reprinted from a recent issue of SPARTAN Magazine. We will be running SPARTAN Magazine stories on selected members of the incoming recruiting class on SpartanMag.com today as part of national letter of intent signing day:
Since the de-commitment of Elite 11 Quarterback Keith Nichol, quarterback recruiting has been a top priority for Mark Dantonio and his coaching staff.
With Drew Stanton graduating and just two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster in Brian Hoyer and Connor Dixon, signing at least one top high school quarterback is critical for Michigan State in the 2007 recruiting class. And if the stars align properly, and the Spartans can bring in an All-American type signal caller, Michigan State will likely sign two quarterbacks in this year's senior class.
US Army All-American Matt Simms, the son of former New York Giant Phil Simms, is still the name most Spartan recruitniks are keeping a close eye on. But even if the Don Bosco Prep star and No. 9 player in New Jersey does not announce for Michigan State on signing day, the Spartans are in good hands at quarterback with Holland Christian's Kirk Cousins.
A 4.0 student with solid arm strength, excellent mechanics and good accuracy, Cousins committed to Michigan State over offers from Colorado, Toledo and Western Michigan.
"Kirk and Josh Rooks (Northwestern commitment) really set the bar high for our program," said Holland Christian coach Tim Lont. "They got us to the playoffs for the first time in school history and I think both of those young men have bright futures ahead in college."
Rooks committed to Northwestern over MSU in the fall, when John L. Smith was still head coach of the Spartans. Rooks hasn't wavered from that commitment.
"I do not know how we are going to replace them," Lont said. "Kirk is player that we knew was going to be special here when he was coming up as a middle school player. With both Kirk and Josh, it was a matter of waiting until they got up here to the varsity level."
Michigan State had Cousins on campus at camp last summer. At that time, Michigan State had a commitment from Nichol and was not necessarily looking to take another quarterback. Cousins' ability impressed then quarterbacks coach Dan Enos and former offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin so much that Michigan State told Cousins there would be a scholarship spot available for him if the Spartans opted to take a second quarterback. After watching Cousins at camp, the thought of taking a second quarterback suddenly started making sense for Baldwin and Smith. Cousins was that impressive.
After Nichol's decision to de-commit, Cousins remained an attractive consideration. Enos, now the Spartan running backs coach, recommended Cousins to Dantonio, new offensive coordinator Don Treadwell and quarterbacks coach Dave Warner.
"I know that Coach Enos did fight for me," Cousins said. "I know that the minute the new coaching staff came in he said, 'I saw Kirk Cousins throw and he has as much arm strength as anybody you've seen. He may not be a high-profile guy but he has the skills.' He went to battle for me and that really helped. I appreciate that from Coach Enos and he has been a big help in that regard."
Colorado initially tried to recruit Cousins as a greyshirt, meaning they wanted him to walk on for a semester before putting him on full scholarship next January. Colorado then upped the offer to a guaranteed full scholarship beginning next fall once they learned that Michigan State coaches has had offered Cousins a full-ride.
COUSINS PART OF DEEP IN-STATE QB CLASS
When it comes to in-state talent, no position is deeper than quarterback. Led by Nichol (Oklahoma), six Michigan quarterbacks are committed to BCS conference schools. Adrian's Steven Threet will play ball at Georgia Tech, while Orchard Lake St. Mary's Justin Siller (Purdue) and Macomb Dakota's James Stallons (Wisconsin) will join Cousins in the Big Ten.
Brother Rice's Mike Capetto (Duke) will join Threet in the ACC.
The state of Michigan will also send a number of quarterbacks to MAC schools, as East Grand Rapids standout DeMarcus Grady heads to Northern Illinois and Pontiac Notre Dame Prep's Kyle McMahon will sign with Eastern.
Nichol and Cousins were the only ones offered scholarships by MSU. It's unclear whether MSU would have pursued Threet and Stallons if they had been uncommitted when Dantonio was hired, and after Nichol de-committed. But there are clear indications that the former staff put Cousins higher on its evaluation list than Stallons and Threet after the camp season.
Holland Christian's Cousins does not have the name recognition of Threet, Siller, or possibly even Stallons, but when the Cousins made his way around the summer camp circuit prior to his senior season, he nearly always outperformed those ranked ahead of him in the Rivals.com database.
Cousins' lack of recognition stemmed from a foot injury he suffered three games into his junior season. The timing of his injury could not have been worse as far as Cousins' future as a college quarterback was concerned because it limited the amount of junior film that was available to college recruits and relegated Cousins to no-name status while making the rounds at camps last summer.
"The injury my junior year definitely did not help with recruiting," said Cousins. "I didn't have a lot of film because of it and the film I did have made me look not very mobile because I couldn't run around with the injury. I pretty much had to become a drop-back passer and I think that hurt a little bit too."
Even though Cousins had to wait for a scholarship offer, he believes that everything worked out for the best.
"It was a process that was grueling and tough at times, but I only go through it once and I really have no complaints," Cousins said. "God has been good to me and he has answered a lot of prayers."
Lont finds it ironic that athleticism is one of the questions marks that college football recruiters had with Cousins.
"He is probably the most athletic football player we had in our program," said Lont. "He is the starting point guard on our basketball team and he is one of the Holland Christian's best baseball players. He is one of the best athletes that I've had the opportunity to coach."
Perhaps underrated even by SpartanMag.com, Cousins is listed as the No. 31 player in the state on that web site. He passed for 2,100 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior. He piled up nearly 300 passing yards against conference rival Muskegon High whose defensive backfield includes Ron Johnson, who is arguable the nation's top prep corner.
"Kirk had one of his best games of the season against Muskegon," said Lont. "A lot of teams won't go after a secondary like theirs with the type of athleticism they have back there, but Kirk dictated tempo and use his accuracy to move the ball down the field at will."
At the Penn State NIKE Camp, Cousins was tabbed as the No. 2 quarterback in attendance by Elite 11 quarterback guru Bob Johnson. The experts that coordinated the Elite 11 Quarterback camp tabbed Cousins a member of the "Next 11" which essentially puts Cousins among the nation's Top 25 prep quarterbacks in the mind of gurus like Johnson.
Cousins might not have gotten the press of four-star ranked players like Pat Bostick (Pitt) or three-star prospects like Cody Catalina (Syracuse), Dan Persa (Northwestern), or Torrey Smith (Maryland), but he outperformed each of them at the NIKE Camp at Penn State.
Cousins was upgraded to a three-star prospect by Rivals.com shortly after the scholarship offers came from Michigan State and Colorado. Whether the offers had anything to do with that upgrade is unclear.
The only quarterback more impressive than Cousins at State College was Tyrod Taylor (Virginia Tech), a Top 100 standout with Elite 11 status.
But Cousins is not caught up in rankings; he has confidence in his ability.
"I have the arm strength and I have the accuracy," said Cousins. "My greatest strength is my intangibles - leadership, competitiveness, intensity, and field vision. Those are things you can't really see at a combine."
And Cousins is not afraid to admit his weaknesses.
"My one weakness is lack of game experience," he said. "I haven't played in a lot of games because of my injury and because my team did not make it deep into the playoffs. I need some time to get some game experience."
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